The Virtual Information Society
This essay talks about the information society and especially the information society as I expect it to be in ten years from now. Important for such an analysis is to first define what the information society means to me and what parts of society are enclosed by this term. In my opinion the information society is that part of civilization that is occupied or influenced by some type of information in everyday’s routine. Roughly spoken almost everyone and everything in society apply to this, but in order to keep things within reasonable borders in this paper I will limit myself to a small number of areas of this information society, i.e. business, education and research, governments, and households.
Before I consider the changes to the information society, I will start off with the drivers and the subsequent technology – the internet – that in my opinion will be a major cause of these changes. Then I will present my expectations with respect to the four areas of the information society, after which I will analyze the internet by McLuhan’s “Laws of Media”. According to McLuhan in order to really understand the effects that without any doubts will result from a new medium, one should ask the questions related to these Laws of Media.
Drivers for Change
As mentioned the information society is everyone, or everything, which has to do with the creation, usage and sharing of information. From a technological perspective, the internet should thus be considered as a crucial medium for transferring information. Although developed shortly after the 2nd World War by the US military, the internet as we know it is only widely used by society for as long as a decade. In this short period of time already a lot has changed. However, in my opinion the internet as a technology is far from its maturity and will go through some noteworthy changes in the coming years. And as a result, so will the society. This corresponds to McLuhan’s ideas that media should be viewed as environments that shape human life. Very important for the changes to the internet, will be the technology behind it, in particular higher speed/capacity and improved security measures. Furthermore, from an economic and social perspective I think that higher computer literacy and access to the internet will have an important impact to the development of the medium. Finally, political aspects like a gradual joint formulation of standards and regulations will also significantly affect the internet. As a result increasingly more applications and services via the web will be offered and internet traffic and business will grow enormously over the next couple of years. I think the internet will eventually, and perhaps already within ten years, alter the information society into a ‘virtual’ information society.
Changes in the Information Society
As the first of the four areas I present my expectations with respect to business in 2014. I believe that the internet and its applications will change the business environment, at least the companies dealing largely with information such as consultancies and law practices, into one that contains mostly virtual companies and offices. With this I mean that increasingly more people will actually work from their homes and that the new work floor will be in ‘cyberspace’. Of course videoconferencing and working with groupware via the internet already do exist, but in practice those are not used a lot. In my opinion the technological advancements will make such applications, and many more others to come, widely available and thus the traditional offices obsolete.
Education and research as we now know it is mainly performed in schools and universities geographically spread out all over the world. I guess that in ten years time the internet will be the main host of education and research. Content and applications for learning will become highly user-friendly and qualitative, while research will be carried out mostly by communities of experts and specialists via the web. In general e-learning and global research will thus take place at virtual schools and universities.
Information creation and sharing is also one of the main functions of governments. And thus governments are perfect candidates for offering their services through the digital channel, the internet. I think that in ten years time most of the governmental offices have disappeared and have been replaced by virtual government via the web. The larger access and greater capacity will make the services and applications much better available for citizens, while contact and collaboration among governments and institutions will become much quicker and easier.
As final area of information usage I argue that households will develop into virtual households in ten years time. Interaction with the outside world via the web will become increasingly more prominent as several devices in the homes will offer digital services to make life less complicated. Discussed earlier was working from home, but furthermore the contact with friends and family, the local community (shops, cafes, etc.) and the rest of the planet more and more will take place on the internet.
Analysis of Internet with McLuhan’s laws
Just like the sailor in Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom” McLuhan also emphasized attention to the environment to escape the maelstrom and therefore he developed his four Laws of Media. McLuhan argued that this framework could be used to analyze any technology or artifact, but could also be employed to ideas, institutions, social movements or any other product of the human mind. As I called the internet the major technology responsible for the changes ahead, I will answer the four questions of the Laws of Media for that specific medium.
1. What human trait or experience does the internet enhance?
Internet enhances our ability to interact across time and space. Not only it improves our functioning, but it also makes people more efficient. Up till now we can see and hear via the internet, smelling is also already possible, while the other senses will definitely become feasible via the web on way or the other. Furthermore, the internet does not only extend the individual, but in fact it extends the entire society.
2. What pre-existing technology or medium does the internet obsolesce?
Internet will obsolete other media like radio, TV and telephone. It makes these redundant since the internet will combine all three of them and even offer numerous more functionalities to the user. I think that these three types of traditional media will thus disappear completely, since they will converge into one internet driven device.
3. What technology or medium that was previously obsolesced or abandoned does the internet retrieve?
The internet retrieves the nearness and convenience of the medieval village in which the ‘whole world’ was close by. One could work from home and find the necessary information and products next door, while all relevant relationships were available at very close distance.
4. When fully utilized or pushed to its extreme, what will the medium reverse into?
Obviously the internet can have an isolating effect on people using it. Instead of reaching out to the world, people can end up in their own private little world. The contradictory is thus pretty extreme, one could be able to virtually live and work all over the world, while being societal isolated by never leaving one’s own house.
As the internet currently is still far from its maturity, in the coming years significant changes to the internet are expected that will also dramatically affect the information society. In my opinion the internet will ultimately alter the information society into a virtual information society. This will have major implications to many areas, especially to business, education and research, governments, and households. The internet as the driver for these changes typically applies to McLuhan’s four Laws of Media. It enhances the ability to interact across time and space, obsolesces media like radio, TV and phone, retrieves the nearness and convenience of the medieval village, and reverses into new ways of societal isolation.